HALL OF MIRRORS: AT HOME WITH TRIX AND ROBERT HAUSSMANN
Since 1967, when they founded their Zürich-based office Allgemeine Entwurfsanstalt (which translates rather prosaically as “general design institute,” an ironic allusion to totalizing design solutions), Trix Haussmann-Högl and Robert Haussmann have worked on hundreds of projects, from urban planning, buildings, residential interiors, and boutiques to furniture, graphics, exhibitions, and textiles. One of their trademarks is the unique way they use the mechanisms of illusion, anamorphosis, and reflection to transform the perception of space, and their new home could be said to be a manifesto demonstration of their signature approach. Located on a bustling street corner in the Seefeld district of Zürich, the 1,700-square-foot apartment is on the upper floors of a Jugendstil building dating from 1909; the interiors, however, date from last year, since the Haussmanns just moved in, after relocating from a decidedly larger house in the same part of town, where one of their children now lives.
On entering, a piercing-red wall-to-wall carpet welcomes the visitor into a corridor lined with pieces from the couple’s extensive art collection — works by the likes of Max Bill, Méret Oppenheim, and Dieter Roth, as well as some of their own, that often playfully address the polysemy of words and images. “We didn’t change very much when we moved in,” understates Trix Haussmann. “We took the apartment as a given condition, but wondered how to arrange it for our everyday needs. All of the items in these rooms have accompanied us throughout our career. They could be seen as manifestos for quality or craftsmanship. It’s our attitude of sustainability,” she adds with a smile. In addition to the art and the omnipresent red carpet, mirrors are perhaps the most important element in the Haussmanns’ new abode, covering doors, walls, shelves, and even window frames and sills. “The mirror has been part of our architectural vocabulary since the beginning,” explains Robert. “For a narcissistic person, an interior with so many mirrors might raise a whole set of issues. But for us it’s more about the capacity of mirrors to seemingly dematerialize an object, as well as the entire Cartesian, three-dimensional imagination of physical space as a box. In dissolving such boundaries we value the space in between, through difference and endlessness at the same time. Mirrors open up and multiply perspectives. It’s hardly a new idea, though. Just think of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.” Trix then evokes Michelangelo Pistoletto and his celebrated mirror paintings, before going on to explain that “the mirror generates images that cannot be touched, a recording surface that lacks depth, lacks organs, lacks being, and yet connects in its dialectical operations the realms of the real and the virtual.”
Philosophical musings aside, the Haussmanns also see the mirror’s functional aspect. “If you put mirrors in the reveals of windows, like I have in my study, you will double the amount of light inside the room. And if you put mirrors behind the books in a bookshelf, it almost seems as if there’s another room behind it. Take this dining room for example,” Robert bemusedly exclaims. “If it had only pictures on the walls, it would feel unbearably cramped!”
It is this interplay between perception and pragmatism the elegiac and the mundane, the systemic and the seemingly frivolous that is to this day forms the core of the lively octogenarians’ practice, in tandem with their penchant for playing with a pre-existing system and using its own rules to undermine it, most recently on view for an exhibition and site-specific installation at the Peter Zumthor-designed Kunsthaus Bregenz. “Some people say that what we do is art. But we see ourselves as architectural pragmatists.: We’re simply interested in the use of space.”